Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now in the studio is the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Bowen. Minister, thanks for your time. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Great pleasure, Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: As our viewers heard there, Bridget McKenzie saying that dual cab, Hilux is worth 52 grand. The cheapest comparable ute is 92 grand in an EV version, that being a Chinese make. You can see where the Coalition is heading. Will tradies have to pay more for utes?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, no, they won’t, and this is all just a rerun of Scott Morrison's, you know, it will end on the weekend rubbish from a few years ago.

Take the United States. Now we are going to match the United States by 2028 in terms of vehicle emissions standards, vehicle efficiency standards. I think you, I, viewers know utes are pretty common in the United States. They've had these standards since the 1970s. This is not a radical change. It's an important change for Australia. 85% of cars and utes and SUVs sold around the world are sold under vehicle efficiency standards. It's way beyond time that Australia caught up.

Now it's not just about EVs. EVs are part of the picture, of course. The United States and New Zealand there's more than 150 models of EV available. Here in Australia, fewer than 100 because we don't require people to send us efficient vehicles. But even within petrol and diesel vehicles, there's a big range of efficiency and we are at the end of the queue for the more efficient petrol vehicles. Take the Mazda CX-30, for example, 25 per cent more efficient in the United Kingdom than in Australia just the fuel version, let alone hybrid or electric vehicles.

Now, in terms of rural and regional Australia, the real question for Bridget McKenzie and David Littleproud and the National Party is why don't they want rural and regional voters to get the savings from having more efficient vehicles? The more you drive, the more you pay at the bowser, the more efficient your vehicle is, the more your savings. Actually rural and regional motorists would be big winners out of the introduction of new vehicle efficiency standards.

KIERAN GILBERT: So if you're a tradie, you've got a Ranger, Ford Ranger, I think it's the most popular, certainly anecdotally you see them on a car everywhere - on the roads everywhere, the Ranger, they won't be forced to pay for more their utes?

CHRIS BOWEN: Of course not. Of course not. No particular model will go up. That's the evidence from all around the world. That's not just me saying that. When Paul Fletcher tried to do this in government, that's what he said. The fact of the matter is we are going to require car manufacturers to send more efficient vehicles as part of their broader fleet.

KIERAN GILBERT: So it's not just EVs?

CHRIS BOWEN: Of course not –

KIERAN GILBERT: More efficient diesel or petrol?

CHRIS BOWEN: Across the board. They can - the fleet manufacturers can determine how they meet the requirements. Some will choose to send more EVs than hybrids. You know, there's cars that are available in Australia as only petrol vehicles that are available as hybrids in other markets. So that's one option available to them. Just send us some hybrids. You currently send the petrol vehicles, send us the petrol vehicles and some hybrids. They can send the more efficient fuel versions of their cars, in some instances. In some instances, of course, they will send more EVs to Australia. That increases choice.

Particularly what I'm concerned to do, Kieran, is deal with people who would love to buy a more efficient vehicle but don't have huge amounts of money to spend. Our availability of more affordable hybrids and EVs is very low in Australia, compared to other countries. So why don't you send us some of the cheaper models? These are the requirements that, as I said, 85% of cars sold all around the world have to comply with these requirements. Australia and Russia are really the only two major economies who don't have them at this point. It's way beyond time we caught up. 

KIERAN GILBERT: I was reading the statement from the Australian Automobile Association; they want you to release modelling that was done on the potential of fuel efficiency standards. Is that something that you're going to - is that the modelling, is that it?

CHRIS BOWEN: 80 pages released yesterday, Kieran, of the full analysis there for all to see. 

KIERAN GILBERT: So that's the modelling?

CHRIS BOWEN: That's all the analysis that the Government has commissioned and that we've released. It's got all the facts and figures there. AAA has got a month to put in their submission. We've got a preferred position in there that we hope to legislate. Of course, people - we have this proper process where people can put in a submission for a month. We've spent a year talking to all sorts of groups. I was delighted today with Catherine King to hold a press conference in Sydney with the NRMA. I think people know the NRMA is on the motorists' side. That's what they've been doing for 104 years. They're strongly backing these reforms. They know it brings more choice to motorists, more choice to consumers and that's what we're all for. 

KIERAN GILBERT: The renewable community consultation, that's wrapped up, you've released the report on Friday, alongside the head of the National Farmers' Federation which was an interesting endorsement for you. But this has got, I believe, nine recommendations out of that report that was done. Are you going to adopt those recommendations?

CHRIS BOWEN: We've adopted them in principle and obviously we'll work through the implementation. Some of them have got a lot of State and Local government buy in, so we have to work it through with them, very collaboratively. But we want to see communities better engaged earlier. I want to see real community benefit from these programs. Obviously it's in the nation's interest to have more renewable energy. I want it to be in the benefit of those communities hosting the infrastructure as well. I want to see better -

KIERAN GILBERT: Is that the feedback you're getting?


KIERAN GILBERT: Because we're seeing a protest here tomorrow, a big push back. There is that element and some - we've seen it up the coast of New South Wales as well, in the Hunter region, there are some quarters where people are concerned about wind farms and so on. Can you allay those concerns?

CHRIS BOWEN: We can do better as a country in working with communities and, look, in everything - in any big change, this is a big change, you're going to find valid concerns, legitimate issues, and you're going to find on the other hand disinformation and climate change denial. I can deal with legitimate concerns and issues and take feedback and think about how things can be done better.

You know, the other person in that press conference on Friday, Kieran, was Ken, the local landholder, who owns the land surrounding the wind farm where we announced the review. He told me that he was dead against the wind farm, he'd read all the information, and he said a lot of it was disinformation, was very concerned. In the end, it was approved, he now says it's the best thing that's ever happened to him. They let him agist his cattle around the wind farm at no cost to him, they make him payments as a neighbouring landholder. He said it's made his farm much more viable into the future. He's done a complete 180 turn from being dead opposed to it. I want to hear more Kens. I want to see more people getting the benefit of renewable energy. I want to see more people getting an opportunity to share in the opportunities for the country in those regional communities. Andrew Dyer's report was a good report. I said it's the start, not the end. I want to build on it. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Helen Haynes wants you to ensure appropriate funding in the budget. She wants it at the top of the energy ministers' meeting -

CHRIS BOWEN: Helen is a very vocal and effective advocate for regional communities. I've met with her several times. No doubt I'll meet with her again in coming weeks. We take this report seriously. I’ve briefed the State and Territory energy ministers along the process as we go. It will be on the agenda for the next meeting as well. We've got a lot of work to do. This is a big change. The system we inherited was not fit for purpose. You know, the National Party talks a big game, they did nothing about community engagement for nine years. We are improving that engagement dramatically. 

KIERAN GILBERT: The AEMO numbers out last week, it suggested that the futures look good in terms of energy prices. Has the country, has the government, turned the corner now on energy prices?

CHRIS BOWEN: Very encouraging the wholesale prices are down so much, not just compared to 12 months ago. They are very much down on 12 months ago but from when the Coalition was in office. That's a good thing. But we can't be complacent. Wholesale prices are one of the inputs to retail prices. You and I don't pay wholesale prices, but they're one of the things that feed into what you and I do pay. And so that's very encouraging.

It does show that the plan is working, that, you know, as we've always said, more renewable energy means cheaper bills. The Liberals and the Nationals deny that because they just don't get it. They say that, you know, they're for nuclear, which is the most expensive form of energy. You put nuclear in the system, you see bills skyrocket.

KIERAN GILBERT: When does that show up in household bills?

CHRIS BOWEN: We'll see the draft default market offer in the next few weeks and -

KIERAN GILBERT: Would you expect it shortly?

CHRIS BOWEN: I generally don't pre-empt regulators, but obviously we're in a very different position than what we have been and the fact that coal and gas caps and the fact that we're getting more renewables in are helping bring prices down. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister for Energy and Climate, Chris Bowen, thanks. 

CHRIS BOWEN: Great pleasure.